10 Things We Learned: Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma
On the legs and arm of Everett Golson, the Irish took care of business and beat the Oklahoma Sooners by a score of 30-13.
Although not an impressive performance from a statistical standpoint, the young quarterback from South Carolina matured and took the next step as a quarterback on the big stage.
For Oklahoma, this is a disappointing defeat. The Irish rush attack proved to be too strong for the Sooners' defense, and Landry Jones just couldn't exploit matchups down the field with his myriad of wideouts.
Notre Dame moves to 8-0 with the victory, while the Sooners fall to 5-2.
Let's take a look at 10 things we learned in this contest.
Jalen Saunders Is a Stud
The transfer from Fresno State proved tonight that he's among the most explosive receivers in the entire Big 12 Conference.
Saunders was an absolute terror in the slot for the Sooners tonight. As a slippery and cat-quick option, he lived in the area between the defensive line and linebackers. He was elusive, fast and just a thorn in the sides of many Irish defenders.
For the game, he finished with 15 catches for 185 yards. The 15 receptions ties a program record with former receiver Ryan Broyles.
With Kenny Stills being the deep-ball option, Saunders is unquestionably the best option for the Sooners in the slot. Despite playing for Oklahoma, he's still one of the more underappreciated receivers in the nation.
Everett Golson Grew Up
If one didn't watch this game, Everett Golson's stat line would look pretty ordinary.
Golson finished the game 13-of-25 for 177 yards. He also rushed for 64 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown.
Those statistics are misleading because Golson grew up and matured tonight. As a redshirt freshman, facing a top-10 team on the road, is no easy talk. In fact, the general thought would be that Golson should struggle in this type of game.
Tonight, he exuded poise and confidence. Not once did he commit a turnover and was masterful in managing the game. When the play broke down, Golson took off and ran effectively. This was, perhaps, the coming out performance for the South Carolina native—in all facets of the game.
This performance—against a marquee opponent on the road—will surely give him a huge confidence boost going forward.
The Oklahoma Offensive Line Had a Tough Night
In fairness to the Oklahoma offensive line, they only allowed one sack on the night. The pass protection was also decent.
However, the unit as a whole had a rough night—with center Gabe Ikard being a main culprit. Ikard delivered two horrible snaps to quarterback Landry Jones. Both came out of the shotgun formation, and both were ground balls. At one point, Brent Musberger joked that Jones looked like a shortstop on one of the faulty snaps.
As a whole, the unit was battered and out-physicaled. From a running stand point, the Sooners rushed for an average of 0.6 yards a carry. For the game, Oklahoma managed only 15 yards on the ground.
Yes, an Oklahoma team had only 15 yards rushing in a single contest.
Manti Te'o Is a Heisman Front-Runner
Manti Te'o might not win the award, but he's more than in the conversation at this point.
Tonight, Teo had this stat line in the first quarter alone: six solo tackles, three assisted tackles, one sack and two tackles for loss. Those numbers would be great for an entirety of game—let alone one quarter.
Te'o ultimately finished with 11 tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and an interception which helped to ice the game.
It's astounding to watch the Hawaiian roam all over the field. His pursuit skills are superlative, and his ability to diagnose a play before it develops truly makes him special. If he continues on this trajectory, Charles Woodson might have some company in the Heisman fraternity for defensive players.
Balance Is Needed
Oklahoma had absolutely no balance from an offensive standpoint. Sure, when you have the likes of Landry Jones, Kenny Stills and Jalen Saunders, you're going to throw the football.
Even if the Sooners can throw the football more than most, the team can't afford to become one dimensional—and that's what happened tonight.
Oklahoma rushed for 24 yards on 15 carries. That's an appalling 0.6 yards per carry average. No football team is going to win many games with that level of disparity.
A consistent rushing attack would help to take pressure off Jones. With a satisfactory run game, it makes the trio of Stills, Saunders and Jones that much more deadly.
With Oklahoma struggling to run the ball, it afforded Notre Dame the opportunity to gear up for pass—especially considering that there was no running game to respect. As a result, the effectiveness of the vaunted Oklahoma pass attack goes down considerably.
Brian Kelly Called a Great Game
Brian Kelly truly did call a masterful game.
It's simple: he put his young redshirt freshman quarterback in a position to win the game. Kelly got Golson early confidence with high percentage throws—primarily in the realm of bootlegs and play-action.
Kelly also designed a package for Golson, which was an effective amalgam of zone reads, draws and other designed runs.
A key aspect is that Kelly didn't overload the young quarterback. He was aggressive and poignant with his play-calling but also thoughtful of the situation. Playing in Norman against an iconic program is a tall task for an inexperienced play-caller. With that in mind, Kelly dialed up plays that catered to Golson's strengths.
That ultimately led to a victory.
Oklahoma Was Soft
Oklahoma was soft.
One almost never hears the words "soft" and "Oklahoma" associated with each other. It feels even weird to type it. Nevertheless, it rang true tonight.
The general rule of thumb in regards to football is that the game is won in the trenches. Abiding by that premise, both the offensive and defensive line for the Sooners were thoroughly dominated.
The Irish offensive line was pushing back Oklahoma's defensive front consistently, and the quartet couldn't manage much pressure on Golson.
OU's offensive line was adequate in pass-protection but had no success running the football.
Both the offensive and defensive lines help to set the tone for any football team. With both having a lack of success, it apparently rubbed off on the rest of the team tonight. Notre Dame looked more physical, tenacious and hungry.
The Kicking Game Might Be a Problem at Some Point
The kicking game was a bit adventurous for the Irish tonight.
Kicker Kyle Brindza did go 3-of-4 on field goals tonight but missed an easy 35-yarder. He also had one that was narrowly converted from 44 yards.
I might be splitting hairs here in regards to Brindza. He's a younger player with a lack of experience and is 11-of-15 on the season.
In a close game situation, things could get dicey.
Mark May Will Eat His Words
For someone with no vested interest in either program, it still will be entertaining to see Lou Holtz aka "Doctor Lou" gloat and give it to the notorious "Irish hater" Mark May next week.
Is Holtz a homer when it comes to Notre Dame? Absolutely. At times, it's a little embarrassing and sad to see the former coach rock the blue and gold tinted glasses so frequently.
But in this case, he's getting the last laugh for the unabated love of his former team.
Regardless of May's distaste for Notre Dame football, he'll have to give this team props—especially after the Irish won a game on the road against a top-10 team.
Notre Dame Is for Real
The No. 8-ranked Sooners entered the game averaging 52.0 points per game in their previous three contests.
Notre Dame held Oklahoma to 13 points total and 24 yards rushing. I don't think there's any question that this defense is absolutely stellar.
As a whole, Brian Kelly's team was disciplined, focused, energetic and physical. From when Kelly took over, the depth, team speed and athleticism has improved considerably, and the amounts of consistency have picked up exponentially.
Yes, Notre Dame is seemingly back; there's no question about it. The football program bears the brunt of negativity across the nation for whatever reason. The term "overrated" is usually stressed in regards to the anti-Notre Dame vitriol.
However, this team isn't overrated. The defense is lights-out, the offense has some exciting weapons and the coaching staff has proven itself to be very good.
Winning a nationally televised game against a top-10 team on the road is a huge deal. This victory reinforced the notion that Notre Dame can now compete against some of the best in the country.